Why I Still Think Health Care Won't Pass

By Megan McArdle
There's something of a revival of hopes this week among the progressive commentariat.  Perhaps this isn't so bad, they are telling themselves, and me.

Here's why I think it isn't going to happen:

See web-only content:
http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2010/01/why-i-still-think-health-care-wont-pass/34138/

Health care's popularity drops any time Congress discusses it.  With respect to Nate Silver, who argues that the bill would be popular if they ever passed it and could discuss what's in it, you cannot "prove" that voters like a bill because various bits of it poll well on their own.  Do I want a sous vide machine?  Certainly!  I could take a poll that would show nine or ten wonderful things I would love about owning a sous vide machine.  Am I going to buy one?  No I am not, because it costs hundreds of dollars I need for other things.

Almost everything polls well on its own, except tax increases.  But as in my example, deciding whether you want something is not a matter of simple addition of positives and negatives.  Some negatives, like price tag, can outweigh even a stunning array of positives.  The things that poll badly:  price tag, excise tax, individual mandate.  These are crucial components that can't be gotten rid of. 

Moreover, many of the pieces that poll well, like deficit reduction, are things that voters like, but don't believe this bill will achieve.  They're not going to believe it any more after you pass the bill through a process that involves buying off every special interest group in sight. 

Legislators are not unaware of this problem, and they cannot be magicked into ignoring their constituents by saying, "These are not the polls you are looking for." 

I think Yglesias is right that this process was always more fragile than it appeared.  As I read it, majorities of both houses do not want to pass this bill--otherwise, they wouldn't have run for the exits so quick.  They were looking for an excuse that they could deploy without risking retaliation from the leadership--and what the Massachusetts election showed, is that they don't have all that much to fear from the leadership, because the leadership may not be there after November. Reid's almost certain to lose his seat, and Pelosi may lose her majority in the house.

They don't want to say they want to kill it, of course.  So instead, they're doing pretty much what I expected:  putting it on the back burner.  We want to pass health care, but we just have a few things to do first . . .

Once it goes on the back burner, it's over.  As time goes by, voters will be thinking less and less about the health care bill they hated, and more and more about other things in the news.  There is not going to be any appetite among Democrats for returning to this toxic process and refreshing those bad memories.  They're going to want to spend the time between now and the election talking about things that voters, y'know, like.


This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2010/01/why-i-still-think-health-care-wont-pass/34138/